Monday, December 03, 2007

The Sundowner

Good Lord, it's been since September since I posted anything here! Good thing this isn't intended to be done on a schedule. How about today I reminisce instead of ruminate? This promises to be convoluted, but bear with it, please.

In what seems to be another life I was in the US Air Force. My first (and last) posting outside the U.S. was at RAF Croughton, near Bicester, Oxfordshire, England. On the day I arrived at Heathrow airport there were two feet of snow on the ground. The weather was so bad that the bus that was sent from the base to welcome us left early. That was our welcome... being stuck at the airport with no transportation. ("Our" meaning me and my good friend Bob Wells).

No worries. We hired a taxi to drive us the 60+ miles to RAF Upper Heyford. It was freezing, so along the way we stopped at a pub. The first pub I'd ever visited.

Now, at the time, my preferred drink was a Whiskey Sour, and that's what I ordered. That's when I found out that pubs don't serve cocktails (at least that one didn't). But the bartender was a really good sport and was really intrigued that I wanted a "sour whiskey," so he asked me what was in one. Hell if I know. All I knew was that it had whiskey in it, and some kind of citrus.

"Some kind of citrus," he mused. He then took out a shot glass, filled it with whiskey, reached under the bar and pulled out a lemon. Slicing the lemon deftly in two, he then squeezed it firmly into the shot glass and pushed the thing smartly across the bar toward me. "Try that!"

Well, I did. And my lips puckered and curled and drew back over my skull until my cranium looked like a bony golf ball sitting atop a fleshy tee. WAAAYYY too tart.

It took a little experimentation, but I finally settled on whiskey, grapefruit juice, and grenadine. Mixed a bit like a tequila sunrise, with a somewhat muddier look. That's what I drank for the next five years. I didn't name it. To Mike (all the bartenders at the RAF Croughton All Ranks Club were named "Mike") it was "my usual."

Then I went TDY (temporary duty) to write technical manuals in Sacramento, California. I taught the bartender at the hotel how to make these things for me, and she refused to let it sit without a name. I suggested that if she wanted it to have a name, she should name it. She called it a "Sundowner", and that's what it is. My drink; her name.

Not quite the end of the story. As I said, I was in England for five years. (A normal "long" tour of duty was one year, so I was the old man by that time.) On my last day at RAF Crouton. I went to the All Ranks club and Irish Mike was behind the bar. I walked up and asked for "my usual" and Mike mixed it, just as he had done hundreds of times over the previous half-decade.

A new patron was sitting at the other end of the bar, watching. When Mike was done, the newbie motioned to my drink and asked, "What is that?" In his inimitable brogue, Mike replied:

"A waste of good whiskey."

UPDATE: I've recently come across the same ingredients used in a drink called "the Blinker". describes it as "a cocktail dating back to the 1930s calling for a mix of rye, grapefruit, and grenadine. Three ingredients and some ice and you'll be sipping this vibrant, sophisticated drink in no time."

Yup, that's close, and it differs from the Sundowner in only two important respects: the ice and the shaking.  Whereas the Blinker is a uniform pink resembling some form of anti-freeze, the Sundowner has a smooth grade between deep red at the bottom to pale pinkish-yellow at the top. And of course, the Sundowner is made with pre-chilled ingredients and requires no ice. It's the difference between tacos and nachos. Much as nachos are simply failed tacos, the Blinker is a failed Sundowner.

That's my opinion, and I'm stickin' to it. :)

RECIPE: It occurs to me I've never told you how to make the thing properly. Didn't think I had to, as "like a Tequila Sunrise" should have done it. But here it is:

  • 1.5 oz chilled whiskey (I like Johnny Walker Red)
  • 3/4 cup chilled grapefruit juice (fresh squeezed if you have it)
  • 1/2 (1.5 fluid ounce) jigger grenadine (more or less to personal taste)

Combine the whiskey and grapefruit juice in a highball glass. Carefully pour in the grenadine... it won't mix, but will sink to the bottom. Give it one stir with a swizzle stick; just enough to give it a good color grade. Don't garnish it. Really... just don't.

Drink it.

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